Bison, Brushy Bill and Barroom Brawls

How athletic is the American buffalo? R. Wayne Bramble (Walhalla, North Dakota)

Bison are amazing animals. Despite weighing as much as a ton, the shaggy behemoths of the Great Plains can run up to 40 mph, jump a six-foot fence vertically, quickly pivot to combat predators and they are strong swimmers. Plains Indian warriors considered them a more worthy opponent than mano-a-mano combat. 

The Plains Indians of North America revered the bison for its size, strength and power, and a warrior’s ability to kill the sacred, life-giving animal was a rite of passage. Courtesy Library of Congress

I recently acquired a pair of nicely worn woolly chaps which were dyed a colorful red. What can you tell me about such accessories? Rex Caldwell (Scottsdale, Arizona)

I’m guessing you’re talking about angora goat chaps. They’re usually found in colder buckaroo climes like Montana, Wyoming or Idaho. Also, they don’t do well in the brush country as they attract all kinds of cactus and burrs. I’ve never seen a pair of red ones, but I think they might be part of a costume for a Wild West show. I don’t know many cowboys brave enough to wear them on the job.

Movie and TV Western saloon fights feature a lot of broken windows and bar mirrors. Did that really happen, and was the glass easy to replace? David Rapoza Ret. Deputy Sheriff  (Olathe, Kansas)

Hollywood loves those saloon fights, but barkeeps were mighty particular about their windows and mirrors. Those had to be shipped from long distances and were pricey. During the 1800s, at least some elaborate mirrors came from France. Those were in the fancy places. The saloons in raw frontier towns often didn’t have windows or mirrors, so the owners weren’t very concerned about a good brawl. 

Famous Westerner Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith and cronies stand in front of the mirrors in his bar in Skagway, Alaska Territory. The mirrors and the bar would have most likely been shipped at great expense from Seattle, Washington. Courtesy Library of Congress

How did “soiled doves” prevent pregnancy? Jim Garrou (Hermiston, Oregon)

Pregnancy was a serious problem for prostitutes, as it put them out of work for months. So they did whatever was necessary to keep from getting pregnant.

Some used herbs or other chemical substances that were believed to stop pregnancy. There were some physical devices for that purpose. Douching was quite common. Women douched with various substances such as alum, quinine, lemon juice and baking soda. I’ve heard of concoctions of Chinese herbs and mercury and arsenic. The seeds from Queen Anne’s lace, a form of wild carrot, was claimed to be an effective contraceptive, as was olive. Herbs such as asafetida, juniper, pennyroyal, “squirting cucumber” and wild carrot date back to Roman times. The effectiveness of these herbal potions has been amply confirmed by modern medical research.

Some prostitutes insisted the customer use a condom.

But when/if one of the girls got pregnant, abortion was the usual option. Again, certain medicines and herbs were known to induce an abortion—and madams or brothel owners were quite knowledgeable about such things.

Was Brushy Bill Roberts really Billy the Kid? Jay W. Wright (Lima, Ohio)

In a word, no. The evidence is overwhelming that Billy was shot and killed by Pat Garrett at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. People don’t want to accept the fact that famous people are mortal too. Besides, conspiracies are kind of fun.

Physically, Brushy in no way, shape or form looked like Billy the Kid. Brushy had gray eyes with yellow specks, while the Kid had clear blue eyes. Brushy had a square-shaped jaw while the Kid’s was rounder. The ears were completely different. And Billy’s shoulders were more sloped and narrower than Brushy’s. Brushy was illiterate; the Kid was not. Brushy Bill also couldn’t remember important events in the Kid’s life, such as his escape from Lincoln (Brushy claimed there was no shooting going on, which would surprise murdered deputies Olinger and Bell). Lastly, Brushy’s niece said that his birth date was recorded in the family Bible as 1879, which means he was a very tiny kid when the Kid was killed.

A bronze statue of “Brushy Bill” Roberts greets visitors to the Billy the Kid Museum in Hico, Texas. Roberts lived in Hico in the 1940s when he promoted himself as the “real” William Bonney. Courtesy The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress,

Are any famous Western cowboys buried near Teddy Roosevelt? Sidney Greer (Memphis, Tennessee)

Theodore Roosevelt is buried in Young’s Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay, New York. It was near his home and why he chose it as his final resting place. There are no Western cowboys buried there. 

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